Meet Jamie, a McMaster student. Jamie does well in school, but has trouble with social situations. Whenever Jamie interacts with others or is the centre of attention, it causes feelings of anxiousness. Jamie is afraid to say or do something wrong, for fear of people’s judgements. Jamie’s anxiety is so overwhelming that it is necessary to avoid social situations, which seems to be interfering with daily life; Jamie doesn’t join clubs because it requires meeting and interacting with new people. Jamie also doesn’t apply for part-time work because the interview would be dreadful. Jamie lives with social anxiety.
It is important to note that we can all experience feelings of social anxiety from time to time – for example, on the first day of a new class, starting a new job, but, as with Jamie; social anxiety can become an issue when it interferes with daily life – for example, if you are five minutes late for class and you won’t go into the lecture hall because you are worried about what people will say about you. The experience of social anxiety can be isolating and overwhelming.
A person who is living with social anxiety may experience distress in all of these situations or in only some. For example, a student may feel comfortable presenting in front of a large group, but are anxious to approach the professor after class to talk about their grades. Social anxiety really is experienced differently by everyone.
Someone feeling this anxiety may constantly worry about what others think of them. They may worry about doing something embarrassing, saying the wrong thing or thinking that others will laugh at them. Being the centre of attention could be extremely distressing. These thoughts could lead to the person blushing, trembling or shaking, experiencing panic attacks and having difficulty speaking in public. As well, someone experiencing social anxiety may choose to stay very quiet, sit alone in order to avoid being with others, and perhaps feel stifled when talking to someone they don’t know.